Gasoline Prices Hit Record High

Gasoline gas prices
The retail price of gasoline hit an all-time high Tuesday — nearly $1.74 per gallon nationwide — reflecting strong demand, tight supplies and the high cost of oil.

AAA, formerly the Automobile Association of America, reported that motorists are now paying $1.738 per gallon for self-serve regular unleaded gasoline, one-tenth of a penny higher than the previous record set Aug. 30 of last year.

"Unstable gasoline prices make budgeting for fuel costs extremely difficult for families and businesses," AAA said in a statement.

The Orlando, Fla.-based travel agency gets its data from Oil Price Information Service of Lakewood, N.J., which collects retail price information from 60,000 locations daily.

Gasoline prices traditionally rise between March and May as refiners temporarily shut down their plants in preparation for the peak summer driving season, when special clean-burning blends of fuel are required. These shutdowns shrink supplies.

For the week ended March 12, U.S. gasoline inventories stood at 199.6 million barrels, down from 202.1 million barrels a year ago.

This year, the effect on price has been magnified because commercial inventories of gasoline are already low. Refiners are maintaining extremely lean inventories these days because of the high price of crude oil, another factor contributing to higher fuel prices.

Crude oil for May delivery sold for $37.45 per barrel Tuesday on the New York Mercantile Exchange, up 40 cents. The price of oil is below recent highs but still near highest level in 14 years.

Last week, another private survey, compiled by California-based analyst Trilby Lundberg, put the average price of gasoline at $1.77 per gallon — a penny above the previous record in May 2001.

The Energy Department, meanwhile, reported Monday that retail prices averaged $1.743 a gallon for the week ended March 22. That's 0.4 cent below the record set last August.